People have made some crazy things in Minecraft. Functioning calculators, a playable recreation of Pokemon Red, and other intricate creations have all been constructed with the game's deceptively simple toolset. Those experiments require a lot of time to make, though, and many creators don't receive a dime for their work. Microsoft announced plans to change that with the upcoming Minecraft Marketplace and Minecraft Coins.
The Minecraft Marketplace is an in-game storefront that will allow you to purchase fan creations on the Windows 10, Android, and iOS versions of the popular game. Purchases will sync across devices via your Xbox Live account--Minecraft said it's working with its "platform partners" to figure out how to enable this syncing on other consoles--and let you access fan content without having to fiddle with settings or setting up a new Minecraft server.
Minecraft said it's already "partnered with heroic 'crafters well-known to the community to build up a launch catalogue of amazing adventure maps, texture packs, minigames, and more" for the storefront. Other creators who want to join the Minecraft Marketplace can apply for inclusion on the game's website. This should make it easier than ever for Minecraft players to discover new content and support the dedicated people who create it.
Perhaps the biggest wrinkle is the Minecraft Coins in-game currency. Creators won't be able to set a dollar amount for their work--instead, they will set the price in Minecraft Coins, which are themselves purchased with real-world money. This setup is common to free-to-play games: you part with some money in exchange for an in-game currency, spend that currency on additional content, and then that currency is converted back to real money.
Here's what Minecraft said about Minecraft Coins in its blog post:
To make all this happen, we’re introducing Minecraft Coins which you can buy using in-app purchases on your device. Coins let creators set flexible prices and take their share of what they sell. It's super important to us that this is the biggest chunk of the profit: when a cool skin or map gets purchased, the app store platforms take a 30% cut, but creators get the majority after that.
It's not clear how much creators will actually earn from each sale. Minecraft could keep a decent portion of the rest while technically offering "the majority" of the remaining 70% of revenues to creators. This setup would be particularly beneficial for Microsoft; the Windows Store would take its 30% cut of each purchase, then whatever Minecraft earns would be added to the company's coffers, with some unknown percentage going to devs.
This announcement comes at an interesting time. Minecraft is popular among kids because it's simple, doesn't feature mature content, and lets them stretch their problem-solving and creative muscles in a structured environment. Adding in-game purchases to anything marketed to kids is questionable, especially since Amazon was ordered to refund $70 million to parents whose children made in-app purchases without their permission.
Now a game popular with children will add relatively complex payment mechanisms so creators (and Microsoft) can make money. It's not hard to guess what could possibly go wrong there. Maybe that's why the Minecraft Coins will be available on Android smartphones as a public beta in mid-April even though the Minecraft Marketplace itself won't debut until afterwards. That gives Microsoft time to figure out how to explain what exactly Minecraft Coins are, how they work, and why parents might want to make sure their kids can't go on virtual spending sprees.
Minecraft encouraged players who want to know more about the storefront and its currency to reach out via the Minecraft feedback site. The company will also host an Ask Me Anything (AMA) thread on Reddit on April 20. (Surely that's the perfect day to explain in-game economics to people.) In the meantime, we'll know how much this actually helps Minecraft's dedicated creators when the Minecraft Marketplace launches.